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Women in Business – Wilmington’s Women to Watch

A Salute to all of the area’s Women in Business

In a nation where women make up more than 55% of college students, but only 57% of working age women are in the workforce compared to 70% of working age men, encouraging women to seek a fulfilling and profitable career path is more important than ever. Creating an equal workplace advantage for men and women is also critical for employers pursuing to be the best in their industry.

Looking ahead to WILMA’s Women to Watch awards coming up this Friday evening, we decided to ask some of Wilmington’s most interesting women in business a few questions.

Ann Revell, Founder of a. revell communications and VP of Communications at Cloudwyze, a 2014 W2W finalist offers experience and insight into working in a male dominated workplace.

Stephanie Lanier, Co-founder of Lanier Property Group, gives her spin on what women should strive for in their career.

Fanny Slater, Founder of FanFare Catering, a 2014 W2W finalist gives tasteful advice and insight into working in a fast moving industry as a young entrepreneur.

Emilyanne Atkinson, Senior Database Manager at CastleBranch Corp., is a 2015 W2W finalist and offers her thoughts on perseverance in the work place.


Q: What did you want to be when you were a child?

SL: A country music star

FS: When I was a kid, I had one answer for that question and no backup plan. I was going to be a famous Hollywood actress. That dream didn’t entirely change, but it morphed at 28 when I realized that I could still be in front of the world—and I could do it as myself.

EA: I don’t think I had a firm grasp on what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I still don’t.  I’ve never viewed science, technology, engineering, art, or mathematics as truly independent fields of study.  Rather, they give each other context.  There isn’t one thing or one profession that I want to be.  I just want to be free to study and create the things that intrigue me.

Q: How did you get into your industry?

AR: I was a theatre major, and while working on my Master’s I learned to program and so was hired by GeVa Theatre in Rochester NY to run their computer department. While there, we opened a new facility and I became enamored with the work being done by the PR team. I was stuck in the “computer room” while they were out managing lights and cameras and actors… man, I knew I was not destined to stay behind the screen forever…

FS: I was always a Food Network-aholic. I never wanted to go to culinary school or owned a restaurant, though, so I had to figure out how to do food in my own way.  After a brief stint in Hollywood, California—I moved back east to Wilmington and opened a small catering company, Fanfare. I was able to be my own boss and hone in on my craft and creativity in the kitchen. My other passion is writing, and I was lucky enough to eventually be able to combine those two skills and become a food writer. Having that background certainly came in handy when the Rachael Ray Great American Cookbook Competition came along two years ago. I not only had kitchen skills, but the ability to write about food in a way that was playful and always came with a story.

Q: Did you go to college? What was your degree in college?

AR: I went to Seattle Pacific University for undergrad – BA in Theatre. I subsequently received my Master’s in Public Administration from SUNY Brockport.

EA: I went to CFCC.  My degree is in Computer Engineering Technology.


Q: Best advice you have for women in college looking for a career path?

College Career Path

SL: Remember what you were good at when you were in elementary school, what you loved to play, the times when you lost track of time. Look at the little girl you once were for the clues about the woman you should become. It is all there, and when you find “the job” all the pieces will come together. It is like falling in love with someone, it clicks. Keep trying till you find it.

EA: Treat college like a monetary investment rather than a spiritual walkabout or intellectual finishing school.  I see so many people my age crushed under the debt of their student loans.  They’re angry that they can’t find a job with a PhD in first century Latin poetry.  Don’t gain personal enrichment at the expense of personal freedom.  Enjoy the journey, but make sure you obtain knowledge that others will pay you to use on their behalf.  That will get you the best ROI.


Q: What are your future aspirations?

AR: I would love to play a significant role in helping Wilmington become a real center for innovation. We should be a place where knowledge workers abound and we have 100s of growth companies headquartered here.

EA: I’m a big proponent of S.T.E.A.M. I’m launching a website called which will document my exploits and experiments in an entertaining and educational way.


Q: What is the least glamorous job you’ve ever had?

SL: Being the housekeeping boss at a summer camp for teenagers.

FS: In Hollywood, I was a personal assistant for one day. I was asked to place a glass of water in each room for my boss so that if he walked into a room and was thirsty, there was already something for him to drink. I was also asked to clean all of the windows in the mansion. It was a house made of glass.

EA: Corn detasseling.  It’s basically running through cornfields and wrestling the tops off of the female stalks.


Q: What makes you unique from your colleagues?

FS: I would say that my peers are those in the food world. I admire many of them for their culinary degrees, but I would say what makes me stand out is the fact that I have no formal training so I’m able to be a bit less technical. Although that is certainly a disadvantage in some ways, there are a lot of perks to being self-taught in your profession. I think that everyone in this field is spectacularly diverse in their own way, but as for me—well I’m the only one who gets to be Fanny. That’s what my parents would say.

EA: Empirically speaking, from my encounters with other people in IT, my knowledge base is broader and deeper than most.  I owe this in part to my autodidacticism.  But I have found my educational tutelage from private school and home schooling by tutors to be a treasure beyond measure.  For better and worse, the road that I took was less traveled.  Being non-traditional has given me a different perspective of the world. I also have chickens.


Q: Have you ever had any issues working in a male-dominated work place?

AR:  Oh, man, yes. I’ve had so many experiences helping men understand that women are “greater than or equal to” men in the work place that I’m not sure where to start. With the boss that hit me with a ruler each time he didn’t like the way I wrote? Maybe with the first time I was on an all-male Board and had to explain why blonde jokes and women driver jokes didn’t elevate the conversation (as a blonde woman driver)? Or back to that temp job where the boss made me lick the envelopes in front of him … I can go on and on.

FS: Seeing as I’ve worked in many kitchens, which are typically male dominated, you’d think that I would have had issues with this. But I’ve always been a very confident, take-no-shit kind of person so men have seemed to respect that about me. I’ve certainly had some bosses who I could have done without, but as for co-workers, I’ve always been lucky to mostly work with very polite men.


Q: What is your advice for young career women working in an environment that is predominantly men?Success for Women in Business

AR: The key is to stop giggling, don’t talk like a little girl, stop flirting, and first and foremost, see yourself as a professional. Then, take none of their crap. Nip it in the bud – quickly, and quietly at first. Then, get louder and go up the ladders until it’s resolved. But be sure you keep your sense of self and sense of humor throughout.

EA: Poise is power, so maintain your composure.  The moment your voice starts climbing in pitch is the moment they tune you out because you have forfeited your credibility.


Q: Do you believe the WILMA W2W is an important event in Wilmington? How so?

AR: We so seldom celebrate women as professionals. W2W is one of the only times we in Wilmington have a chance to say “woman, you rock,” and call out key leaders (and leaders-to-be) in our community for being really great at what they do. I believe this could be one of a handful of events that helps us get to Wilmington’s next FEMALE Mayor!

SL: It helps promote the great work of women in our community. I especially love the Rising Star category, so that we can help invest in the next generation of female leaders.

FS: Absolutely. The Women to Watch event is not only encouraging for those involved, but it inspires those who aren’t to want to be part of it. It’s a wonderful feeling to be recognized for your accomplishments in your specific field, and this event does exactly that. It empowers such a large amount of women in so many versatile professions. It also brings so many people in the community together. Wilmington is a small town where everybody runs in the same circles, so it’s fun to all celebrate together in one place.

EA: WILMA’s Women to Watch is a great event that showcases the amazing local women in the area.  Women tend to be self-effacing.  By contrast, this even shines a spotlight on their accomplishments.  I think it’s also good because it gives other women something to aspire to and role models.  If they can do it that means it’s possible to do it, that means I could do it! I’m also a part of WILMA’s inaugural leadership initiative.  I can’t recommend being in that enough!  We’re a small band of eight go-getters who serve as each other’s personal board of advisers.  There is safety and insight in a multitude of counselors.


Q: How did W2W help your career or exposure? What would be your advice to other women who are hoping to be part of W2W in the future?

AR: I can’t really point to anything in particular – like, there’s no ‘new business’ that came from the award, however I certainly got a lot of “atta-girls” from colleagues. It could be that it’s because I didn’t win… Ha! What I really think is that those of us who win these awards need to position the award as critical. When other women point to the award as symbolic of success, it will have even more meaning.

FS: Right around the time of my nomination, I was just starting to get a lot of press for my win on the Rachael Ray Competition. The W2W event was specifically rewarding because I was acknowledged alongside of so many peers that I respect. It was a wonderful feeling to be nominated in a category, Rising Star, which felt so true to who I was and what I was currently experiencing. In regards to helping my exposure, a lot of people who just knew me as a local foodie saw me on the cover of WILMA and realized that I had just taken a huge leap forward in my career. One minute I was interviewing other chefs about their success, and the next everybody wanted to write about me! It was pretty surreal.


Q: What’s on your reading list?

AR: My bookshelf is full, but here’s what I’m buying next: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time; Pitch Anything; Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World; Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; Common Sense (Paine); The Rebels of Ireland; New York (an historic novel).

SL: Anything by Brene Brown, Jim Collins or Seth Godin. I always recommend The Confidence Code for young women…it has wisdom you can directly apply to your career. For small business owners the #1 book is E-Myth Revisited.

FS: I’m glad you asked. Orange, Lavender & Figs by Fanny Slater is currently available for pre-order on Amazon right now! The book hits shelves March 1st.

EA: Tesla: The Life and Times of an Electric Messiah by Nigel Cawthorn, The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath,Signature in the Cell by Stephen C. Meyer, Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki.


We are looking forward to WILMA’s Women to Watch awards and the spotlight that it brings to all of the amazing women in business that are making Wilmington better and more innovative.

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Collaboration: Strength in a Diverse Workplace

“Collaboration is the best way to work. It’s [the] only way to work really. Everyone’s there because they have a set of skills to offer across the board.” – Antony Starr, actor

There is an importance of interaction and collaboration that cannot be ignored in the workplace, especially when working in a small, start-up environment. Collaboration within inter-disciplinary teams are becoming more and more important in companies today that are both expected to offer more variety in their services and to include creative elements in presenting their business for customers and potential clients. The impact of collaboration has been proven to increase productivity and improve our human chemistry. It is a fact that we are better working together than we are working on our own.

The impact of collaboration lies with the skills and experiences that each individual brings to the table. It is imperative to our success that individuals hold a wide variety of interests and approaches to help the team arrive at a well-rounded conclusion. Each individual’s experiences manifest themselves in decisions and creations that are unique and original. These viewpoints are commonly derived from the most critical of our unique personality traits; some of us are creative, some approach things with an analytical mind, we are introverted or extroverted, we lean toward being optimistic or pessimistic, we are always on time or tend to be late, we are organized or thrive in controlled chaos. The differences in our personalities and experiences as humans manifest themselves in the most productive way when we are collaborating with one another. Our individual strengths shine when we work with others who compliment our strengths or our shortcomings. Sometimes our differences create what Jerry Hirsch, executive designer at Nissan, calls creative abrasion. He encourages people to use the energy that comes from working with people who are different from each other into something positive? He suggests to leverage the differences and work to identify what can be complementary about them. Read more about creative abrasion and the other reasons collaboration is important in today’s business environment. 

The strength of separate individuals is far outweighed by the strength of a team in which each individual possess a variety of skills and experiences that compliment each other’s diverse capabilities.



A physical example of individual skills complimenting each other is in the sport of football.  The collaboration of an offense and defense one a single team is imperative for the joint goal of all of the team’s players. While both the defense and the offense have separate goals during their time on the field, the collaboration and common goal of both must compliment each other for the ultimate objective of stopping the other team from scoring, putting points on the board, and winning the game. Each player on a football field possesses skills that make them technical and physical specialists in their position. When the team isn’t working well together it is reflected in the score and in the success of each play.


While our conference rooms may not be as public as an NFL or Big Ten College Football game, the importance of bringing unique skills to the table for the common goal of success plays out much in the same way. While collaborations include moments of pulling out your hair, slamming a clipboard to the ground, or looking at a teammate in disbelief after a “play,” the importance and results of collaborating most often end in positive, creative results for the company and for their clients. While there is no denying the challenges that face us when working with those who think and operate differently than ourselves, the creative abrasion and gained assets of a variety of viewpoints culminating in the completion of a successful project offsets any denial that working together is better than working alone.


In today’s business culture, companies are trying to be more things for their customers and those customers are seeking out companies that cut out the middle- man. These demands include but are not limited to a business being a marketing firm, experts in social media, a go-to for legal advice, and a personal confidant along with having the business acumen expected from industry leaders. The results of these customer demands are more inter-company collaboration and interdisciplinary teams within the workplace. And as companies utilize the advancement in internet and technology, they are able to expand our not only within different disciplines but also to different places. Technology has lifted several barriers that we may have faced just a short time ago, and now global collaboration is more achievable and allows us to accomplish more every day. These positives should be embraced and celebrated in creating a better, more efficient way for the whole world to work together and illustrates the importance of individuals coming to together to create, accomplish and thrive.


This is more apparent than ever in a business like Elite Innovations, where we never quite know who or what idea will walk through the door. Being a product development firm, we discovered early that the clients we would serve and the teams we would need to build within the company would be diverse and ever changing. Working together in our interdisciplinary teams, we have found strength in each other’s differences and in unique skill sets that each of us possesses and exemplify in our everyday operations. Did I ever believe as an entertainment professional that I would work with programmers, engineers and industrial designers? Probably not; but in seeing that our differences compliment each other at every turn, and that creative abrasion results in even more creative alternatives and solutions, I now know the true value in collaboration. It takes straightforward thinkers and creative thinkers to gain insight from each other and for extroverts to express and present what introverts cannot naturally express. We are all wonderfully diverse and different in our concentrations.

Approaching business as an opportunity for collaboration strengthens companies and individual productivity, resulting in more shared value for the whole eco-system.


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Startup Innovation Through Community Participation

Co-written by: Christine Williams

There is no doubt we live in a great city. Wilmington has been praised in many media outlets, getting kudos for its location, great food, University system and sense of community. Wilmington is just one of the great examples of how vital the surrounding community is to the success of local businesses, and vice versa, a mutual support system of sorts. For a locally owned company, a great relationship with the community can ultimately be a determining factor for success. This mutually beneficial relationship between a local company and the surrounding community is personified in education, outreach and community engagement. Here at Elite Innovations we think that is the difference between a good and a great company.

One of our biggest priorities here at Elite Innovations is to foster successful relationships in the community within Wilmington, starting with students.
Students are the future creative and innovators of our community and responsible for its acceleration and future success. A child’s mind is a great thing, ready to absorb information, ideas and come up with truly wondrous ideas.

This past summer we hosted many kids’ camps at Elite Innovation’s MakerSpace. One of the student and staff favorites was an “innovation lab,” challenging students to essentially “build a better mousetrap” car. Among the students was a group of 10-12 year olds from UNCW’s Engineering Camp, led by Kathy Ibbotson.

UNCW Engineering Camp Elite Innovations Makerspace

Our staff was blown away at the enthusiasm and creativity of the young engineering enthusiasts. The students, who were from all over NC, were able to use their skills to collaborate with one another and create functioning cars that were both impressive and entertaining. This collaboration and creativity can be seen in our community every single day.

One of the staples of the Wilmington creative arts scene is the Cucalorus Film Festival, now in its 21st year of presentation. Elite Innovations aims to strengthen ties within the creative community by teaming up with Cucalorus this year in a new and exciting branch of the festival called Cucalorus Connect.

Cucalorus Connect UNCW CIE

Presented by the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UNCW, a strong and enthusiastic supporter of Elite Innovations, Cucalorus Connect’s inaugural event will be a conference that hosts the heavy hitters of the start-up community and those that are driving new business. Connect highlights “[the] artists of the 21st century,” Brawley has said. This concept includes start up owners, CEOs, programmers, technology creators, incubators and many other inventive job creators.

Makerspace Quad Copter Demo with Boy ScoutsBy positioning ourselves alongside of forward-thinkers like start-ups at UNCW’s CIE and the staff who run Cucalorus, we are aiming to drive new and unique ways of merging creative arts and business into the community.

A company can only be a strong as the community surrounding it. The community in which a company exists acts as its extended family, a mutual support system. The community holds a wealth of knowledge in different sectors and a great relationship with the community can ultimately be a determining factor for success for locally owned companies.

Strength comes in numbers and those numbers add up to collaboration within a community that works and grows together. The culture of a start-up is different than that of a franchise or company branch that may be opened. A start-up is, in its very nature, a labor of love, a passionate endeavor and full of enthusiasm. It takes a community with members of the same qualities to solidify the impact of these companies. We view the Wilmington community like one big company, everyone with their unique abilities and strengths, but all working together toward one movement. The consistent positive enforcement that we all give to each other breathes purpose into all of our missions in building an exciting business community and in turn, a thriving economy.

Here at Elite Innovations, we are proud to sponsor and be part of many great things happening in the community. Stay tuned to find out how we are drumming up some new exciting things in Wilmington and beyond.